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All Souls Catholic Parish History

Bishop John Moore purchased land for All Souls parish in 1881 in Sanford, Florida, however, that would not be the land upon which the first church was built. The property on which the first church was ultimately constructed was purchased on April 26, 1887 for $2600 dollars.

2008 Church

Photo of All Souls Catholic Church dedicated in 2008
The third All Souls Catholic Church dedicated in 2008.

1937 Church and 1887 Church

Photo of the 1887 and 1937 churches
Top – Church completed in 1937    Bottom – 1887 Church

The photographs directly above and below are of the first All Souls Catholic Church. The cornerstone for the church was set on July 4, 1887 by Father Felix Prosper Swembergh as part of the grand Independence Day celebration that brought thousands of people from far away cities to Sanford.

Postcard of the 1887 All Souls Catholic Church
1887 All Souls Catholic Church  circa 1920

Prior to the construction of the 1887 church, priests assigned to the church in Maitland and later to St. James Church in Orlando, would travel to Sanford once or twice a month to celebrate Mass, baptize babies and perform marriages. Newspaper listings for church service times state that the services were held at Doyle’s Hall. M. J. Doyle was an Irish Catholic businessman who allowed the visiting priest to use space above his mercantile store at the corner of First Street and Magnolia in downtown Sanford.

Photo Sanford 4th of July 1887 - Doyle's Store

The second building to the right in this photograph is M. J. Doyle’s store as it stood on July 4, 1887. On this date, the cornerstone for the first Catholic church in Sanford was set in a Solemn Ceremony listed on the 4th of July Programme. Father Felix Prosper Swembergh was the pastor of St. James in Orlando when the cornerstone was set for All Souls. There was a great fire in Sanford just a few months later that destroyed a large portion of downtown Sanford including the two buildings shown in the photograph.

The church was completed around November 1887, shortly after the death of the beloved Father Swembergh, who died of Yellow Fever on October 31, 1887, caring for the sick and dying in Tampa. The completion date assertion is based on an article in the Florida Times Union dated October 27, 1887 [emphasis added]: “The Catholic Church at Sanford will soon be completed. It will be one of the handsomest of the state.”

It would certainly be amazing to learn that the church was completed in time for All Soul’s Day 1887, however, the actual date of completion has yet to be found.

Photo of Rectory, Church and School
Rare photographic post card of the rectory built for Father P. J. Bresnahan, the 1887 church and the school.

This rare photographic postcard, shows the rectory on the left, the church in the center and the school on far right as they stood prior to the great fire that destroyed the church and rectory on January 25, 1932. The rectory was built in early 1911 for the first resident pastor Father Patrick J. “PJ” Bresnahan. The church  was constructed in 1887, and the convent/school was completed by May of 1912 for the Sisters of Mercy and their St. Anne’s School.

The first church burned to the ground in the early morning hours of January 25, 1932. The first fire alarm came in at 4:30 a.m. and within minutes the fire department was on the scene. Due to wind shifting, the rectory caught fire as well and was nearly destroyed. Everything in the church burned to the ground but church records were saved. Some bystanders helped save some of the furniture in the rectory and removed it to the former school / convent for safety.

The photo below shows the rectory after the January 1932 fire. The only remnants of the 1887 church were foundation bricks – visible in the foreground in this photo to the right of the rectory.

Photograph of rectory after the fire in January 1932
Sanford Fire Department photograph of the rectory after the January 1932 fire that destroyed the church.
Photograph of the Parish Hall after the January 1932 fire.
Sanford Fire Department photograph of the parish hall after the January 1932 fire.

The photograph above was also taken by the Sanford Fire Department after the fire that destroyed the church and the rectory on January 25, 1932. It shows what was, at that time, called the Parish Hall or the Social Hall. Completed in May 1912,  the structure originally housed the Sisters of Mercy Convent and their St. Anne’s School, as reported in the May 10, 1912, Tampa Tribune:

“The convent and home for the Sisters of Mercy that has been built on the property of the Catholic Church, in the enclosure with the church, is so near completion that the sisters, who are conducting the school, have moved in, and the children are receiving instruction in the new building, which, from the exterior, seems to be ample for use as a school and also a home.”

Despite the fact that Sanford’s citizens keenly felt the ill effects of the Great Depression, the parishioners of All Souls rebuilt the church in five years.  The new church was dedicated on July 4, 1937 – the 50th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone for the first church.

The 1937 church, now referred to as the Historic Chapel, still stands on the land purchased by Bishop John Moore in 1887. It is located between 8th and 9th Streets and Oak and Myrtle Avenues in Sanford, Florida.

In 1965, there were 350 families in the parish and the parish boundary lines were: North, Lake Monroe; East, St. Johns River; South, Township 25 line going west from the St. Johns River to Sanford Avenue extended, Sanford Avenue north to Onora Road; Onora Road west to Lake Ada, north from Lake Ada to Twenty-fifth Street, west to Paola Road extended to Wekiva River; West, the Wekiva River. (Parish boundary information from: Catholic Parishes of Florida Histories, Univ. of Florida Smathers Libraries, Aisle 23/D/5-6, Box 4-5, Michael Gannon, 1965)

The third church was completed in 2008 and dedicated in August of that year.





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All Souls Catholic Church - Doyle's Hall

Photocopy from the Sanford Herald of a postcard created to commemorate the July 4, 1887 celebration in Sanford, Florida that saw thousands...

All Souls Catholic Church - Church Services

The March 17, 1887 edition of the Daily Journal newspaper was recovered from the cornerstone of All Souls Catholic Church in January...

All Souls Catholic Church - Laying of the Cornerstone July 4, 1887

The Daily  Journal, July 5, 1887 article about the laying of the cornerstone for the Catholic Church in Sanford. The Daily Journal, Sanford,...

All Souls Catholic Church - 4th of July Programme 1887

Transcription of the 4th of July Celebration Programme from Sanford, Florida in 1887. The laying of the cornerstone for the Catholic Church...

Father Felix Prosper Swembergh

Photograph affixed to card with this inscription: Our Martyr Priest who died in Tampa, October 31, 1887. From the Mahoney Collection donated...

All Souls Catholic Church - Sanford, Florida circa 1920

Color postcard of All Souls Catholic Church in Sanford, Florida circa 1920. The cornerstone for the church was placed by Father Felix Prosper...

Father Michael J. Fox - All Souls Catholic Church

The 1908 Celery City Chronicle features information about all aspects of life in Sanford - the organizations, businesses, entertainments, sports, soci...

Father Patrick J. "PJ" Bresnahan - All Souls Catholic Church

According to the October 14, 1910 Sanford Herald, Father Patrick J. Bresnahan said his first Mass as first resident pastor of All...

Parochial Residence of Father Bresnahan

Photograph and article in the Sanford Herald, April 28, 1911, no page number, last page, cols. 1-2. According to the Sanford Herald article...

Post Card - All Souls Catholic Church, rectory, school circa 1914

Postcard of All Souls Catholic Church, rectory, and parochial school circa 1914 between 9th and 8th street on Oak Avenue. Black and white...

All Souls Catholic Church 1887 and 1937

Photographs of All Souls Catholic Church in Sanford, Florida. The bottom photo is that of the first church for which the cornerstone was...

All Souls Catholic Church Destroyed by Fire - 1932

Front page of the afternoon edition of the Evening Reporter Star on Monday, January 25, 1932, with headline "Sanford Church Burns." The...

All Souls Catholic Church - Social Hall 1932

This is a copy of a photograph from fire department records; at the Sanford Museum  showing the All Souls Catholic Church Social...

All Souls Catholic Parish - Rectory

This is a photograph from Fire Department records at the Sanford Museum showing the original rectory which was located on the southen...

All Souls Catholic Church - Postcard circa 1950

Color photographic postcard of the 1937 All Souls Catholic Church at the corner of 9th and Oak in Sanford. This church sits...

Diploma All Souls Catholic School 1957

All Souls Catholic School diploma to member of the second class to graduate the ninth grade. The graduates included Joy Brueggeman,...

All Souls Catholic School - Ninth Grade Graduates 1959

Students graduating from ninth grade at All Souls Catholic School in Sanford, Florida are featured in the Thursday, June 4, 1959 edition...

All Souls Catholic School - School Addition 1959

Photograph and article published in The Florida Catholic on July 3, 1959, p.1, heralding the ground breaking for the school addition at...

Sisters of Christian Charity - All Souls Catholic School 1961

The Sisters of Christian Charity taught children at All Souls Catholic School in Sanford for many years beginning with the opening of...

All Souls Catholic School - Good Citizenship Award

In May 1967, students at All Souls Catholic School in Sanford were the sole Florida recipients of the Good Citizenship Award from...

All Souls Catholic School - Sisters Leaving 1969

A photograph of All Soul's Pastor Father William T. Keane and the Sisters of Christian Charity were featured in the June 13,...

All Souls Catholic School - Basketball Champions 1974

All Souls Catholic School basketball team claimed First Place in the Orlando Diocesan Championship Basketball Tournament in 1974. The March 15, 1974...

All Souls Catholic Church - May Crowning

This is a photograph of the May Day Queen and her court standing on the steps of All Souls Catholic Church in...

All Souls Catholic Church - Historic Chapel - 1978 Parish Album

Two photographs from the 1978 All Souls Parish Album featuring the 1937 church - now referred to as the "Historic Chapel" with...

Father Richard Lyons - 35th Anniversary of Ordination

Father Richard Lyons, All Souls pastor who made the dream of having a Catholic School at All Souls a reality, celebrated his...

All Souls Catholic Church - Historic Chapel circa 1989

Photograph of All Souls Catholic Church  from the front cover of the 1989 Parish Album. This church is now referred to as...

All Souls Catholic Church - East Egg Hunt circa 1978

Miscellaneous photos of Father William Ennis, 12th Pastor of All Souls Catholic Parish in Sanford, Florida, and young ones participating in the...

All Souls Catholic Parish 2009 Album - Events

Two pages of photos of events at All Souls Catholic Parish in Sanford, Florida, taken from the 2009 church directory album.

All Souls Catholic Parish 2009 Album - History to be Remembered

Two pages from the 2009 church directory album at All Souls Catholic Parish in Sanford, Florida. The pages have a collage of...

All Souls Parish 2009 Album - Sacraments & Ministries

Two pages from the All Souls Catholic Parish 2009 directory album. The pages present a collage of sacraments and ministries at the...

All Souls Catholic Parish 2009 Album - School & Faith Formation

Two pages from the All Souls Catholic Parish 2009 directory album featuring collages from the Parochial School and Faith Formation Classes.

All Souls Catholic Parish 2009 Album - School History

Two pages from the All Souls Catholic Parish 2009 directory album featuring collages  of images of the teachers, school and students.

All Souls Catholic Parish - Society of St. Vincent dePaul

Inspired by Gospel values, the Society of St. Vincent dePaul conference at All Souls Catholic Church is a Catholic lay organization that...

All Souls Catholic Church - 2008 Church

Image of the third All Souls Catholic Church located on Highway 46 in Sanford, Florida, dedicated in 2008.

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All Souls Catholic Parish - Priests and Deacons

This list of Priest and Deacons who have served the parishioners of All Souls Catholic parish is a work in progress. As additional information and facts are discovered, the information contained in this list is updated.

Index to Timeline History

Creation of the parish Timeline History is still in progress, but this index will give an overview of types of information and documents included at this time (2015).

All Souls Catholic Parish Timeline History Sources Cited

List of all the sources cited in the All Souls Timeline History currently under construction (2015). This is a list of all the printed copies of documents collected and cited with notations regarding discrepancies, contradictions and corrections to the original document.

All Souls Parish - Sanford Herald 1908-1912

Excerpts from The Sanford Herald newspaper from 1908 through 1913 (at this time). Includes Fathe Fox's last Mass, arrival of first resident pastor - Father Patrick J. "PJ" Bresnahan, arrival of the Sisters of Mercy and their St. Anne's School, school entertainments, school picnics at SanLando Springs, the construction of the rectory, and more.

This is an on-going project and more will be added in the future.

Sanford Florida - The Celery City

Publication from 1909, created by the Sanford Board of Trade, promoting Sanford, Florida - The Celery City - including information on local businesses, tourist accommodations, industry, farming, organizations and churches. All Souls Catholic Church can be found in the photographs.

There was thought to be some issues with the KKK during All Souls long history in Sanford but none has been proven. It is of interest that the only church shown in this publication (see pages 12 and 13) that does not mention affiliation is All Souls CATHOLIC Church. The listing here is just "All Soul's Church."

Index Seeing Florida with a Priest

Index to Seeing Florida with a Priest by P J Bresnahan (Rev. Father Patrick J. Bresnahan).

All Souls Catholic Church - Father Michael Clasby

Father Michael Columbkille Clasby was the 5th Pastor at All Souls Catholic Church in Sanford, Florida. Research indicates that he served from before December 1925 (he is in the December 1925 telephone directory) to before October 1930 (his next appointment began on that date).

A reporter for the Sanford Today magazine interviewed Father Clasby in September 10, 1926
for a weekly column that featured local pastors discussing the sermon they would preach on Sunday.

The two were sitting in the rocking chairs on the front porch of the first rectory (shown on the far left above) built for Father Patrick J. "PJ" Bresnahan in early 1911 (View enlarged image) smoking cigarettes as they spoke.

The article entitled "Sanford's Briefest Sermon Will be Preached Tomorrow Morning in All Souls Church by Father Clasby - Topic: "Do Not Swear,"
gives us an insight into Father Clasby's wonderful Irish sense of humor, his demeanor, and perhaps his ability to make a point with brevity.

All Souls Catholic Church - Dedication of 2nd Church

Newspaper article about the dedication of the second All Souls Catholic Church on July 4, 1937, 50 years after the laying of the cornerstone for the first church on July 4, 1887. Father John J. Kelleghan is featured in a photograph with young Frank Meisch who received First Holy Communion on the same day.

All Souls Catholic School 60th Anniversary - postcard

All Souls Catholic School postcard invitation to festivities surrounding the 60th Anniversary of the opening of the school in 1954.

All Souls Catholic School 60th Anniversary - postcard

All Souls Catholic School postcard invitation to festivities surrounding the 60th Anniversary of the opening of the school in 1954.

All Souls Catholic School Addition - Groundbreaking 1959

Published in The Florida Catholic on July 3, 1959, this photo captured the groundbreaking for additional school classrooms at All Souls Catholic parish in Sanford in 1959.

Shown in the photo is Father Richard Lyons, who spearheaded the establishment of All Souls Catholic School in 1954.

The school was established in a refurbished garage on the former home site of the Chase family at the corner of Oak and Ninth in Sanford. The Chase home was converted into a convent for the Sisters of Christian Charity with their leader, Sister Veronita.

All Souls Catholic Church - 1962 Fire

The first All Souls Catholic Church was burned down on January 25, 1932. As unbelievable as it may seem, someone tried to burn down the second church on September 30, 1962 - 30 years later. This newspaper article from the Sanford Herald, published October 1, 1962 on the front page, gives details and a photograph. There is a transcription of the article at the end of the document as it is very difficult to read due to the condition of the image on the original microfilm.

The October 7, 1962 Sunday Bulletin had this announcement regarding the fire:

By now all of your know about the fire that burnt out the vestibule of our Church last Sunday evening, and damaged the rest of the interior by smoke. We have no definite information how the fire started, except that it was no accident. By very good fortune it was discovered soon, so that much greater damage would have resulted. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Mrs. Toth who came to visit the Church at the most opportune moment and gave the alarm. All damage is fully covered by insurance, and work of cleaning and restoring has already begun. So many have asked how they could help. For the present, your regular Sunday contributions will be the most acceptable way. Later some particular items needed, will be mentioned and your kind help solicited. Thank you  for the many wonderful expressions of sympathy, the prayers and tears we all shared together! These more than anything, are precious fruits of a bond of kindness and charity among us that is overwhelming. God Bless All of You!

All Souls Catholic Parish - Album Directory circa 1968

The parish directory or album was published around 1967-1968 and includes photos and information on the parish.

There errors in some of the information presented in the album directory relative to dates of important events in the Parish History. For example: It states Father Bresnahan arrived in 1911 and the Sanford Herald and Father Bresnahan's own book "Seeing Florida With a Priest" proved he was in Sanford in 1910. Another example: It states the first church burned down in 1931 and it was on January 25, 1932, as proven by newspaper articles in the Sanford Herald and Orlando Sentinel newspapers as well as Fire Department photographs and records.

All Souls Catholic Church - Dedication of new Church 2008

A special dedication booklet was created for the Dedication of the new All Souls Catholic Church - many years in the planning! It features photos of the construction site from the beginning of the process to the completion of the new Church.

PLEASE NOTE: The history presented in the dedication album has several errors.

As an example, the history in the album states that Father Bresnahan because the first resident pastor at All Souls in April 1911, but Father Patrick J. "PJ" Bresnahan actually arrived at All Souls in October 1910 and said his first Mass on Sunday, October 23, 1910, as stated in the October 14, 1910 edition of the Sanford Herald (emphasis added).

County Happenings. "Will Have Resident Pastor"
Last Sunday [October 9, 1911] Father Fox officiated for the last time as pastor of the Catholic church in Sanford. This church he has served continuously for eighteen years, having received his appointment from Bishop Moore in 1892. That period of time witnessed the prosperity and the adversity of the old and the birth of a New Sanford and during it all the pastor stood by his flock. He now leaves regretfully when the New Sanford is in a vigorous and promising adolescence and when the prospects of his church are brighter than they ever were before. But these improved conditions and increased congregations make changes imperative. Hitherto Sanford was a mission, it will now have a resident pastor and be the center of a surrounding missionary field. The church will be in its normal condition with pastor and Mass all Sundays and weekdays.

A rectory, to house the new pastor, will be of immediate necessity and there is hope that at no distant time there will be erected a convent and school to aid in the work of keeping New Sanford clean, cultured, and Christian.

The Rev. Patrick J. Bresnahan, until recently of Tallahassee, will succeed Father Fox. He is not unknown to the people of Sanford, having replaced the Pastor five years ago when the latter made a trip to Europe. Father Bresnahan is strong physically, and interested in base ball and other sports. He is, too, strong mentally and morally and will be a decided acquisition to the city in the works of citizenship and civic nature. Father Bresnahan will take possession of his charge, Sunday, 23rd inst. [October 23, 1910]

Another example deals with the date the rectory was completed and when the Sisters of Mercy arrived and started St. Anne's School. The date mentioned in the History in the Dedication is "before 1913" but the dates are much earlier based on newspaper articles in the Sanford Herald.

Sanford Herald, April 28, 1911, no page number, col. 1-2.

Parochial Residence of Father Bresnahan. The Catholic Church.

Among the many changes and improvements, that have been made in Sanford during the past six months, by no means the least was raising of the district to the dignity of a Catholic parish so great was the influx of Catholics to Sanford and neighboorhood [sic] that a resident priest was found to be absolutely necessary so that the spiritual needs of these Catholics may be attended to accordingly towards the end of October 1910 the Rev. P. J. Bresnahan formerly diocesan missionary of this diocese of St. Augustine was sent hither by his bishop to organize a new parish a Catholic census showed almost 50 Catholic families in town, and a catechism class with an enrollment of about 40 children.

The church is constantly increasing its membership and is now probably the strongest church in the city. The material improvements made have attracted the attention of every citizen. For within four months after his arrival Father Bresnahan found himself in a beautiful parochial residence erected by his enthusiastic congregation at a cost of not less than $2500. A beautiful new altar and has been installed also an organ. And now there is talk of the sisters coming to establish a catholic school on the other side of the beautiful building block owned by the church in Sanford.

Still another example deals with the opening date of the school run by the Sisters of Mercy - St. Anne's School.

Sanford Herald, September 29, 1911, page 12, col. 2.

New School Opens.
The Sisters of Mercy started their school at Park Ave. and Ninth street last Monday [September 25, 1911]. For the present they accept pupils for the kindergarten and grammar school only, owing to lack of accommodations for high school pupils. A new school building is to be put up on the Catholic Church property in the very near future, and then they will be in a position to receive those seeking opportunity for higer [sic] studies. The pupils now in attendance tax the building they occupy. A number of music pupils as well as some for painting have been enrolled.

NOTE: Peter Schaal in, "Sanford as I knew it 1912-1935," p. 4 states: "April 16, 1912 ... I was a student at St. Anne's school, 831 Park Avenue* (later the home of Mayor T. L. Dumas)... The school operated in that building from September 25, 1911 to late **1912..."

*The 1912 Sanborn map shows the address as 823 Park, the last house on the block. The 1920 R. L. Polk Sanford Directory, p. 58, shows Thomas L. Dumas resides at 823 Park. The 1915 Sanford City Directory indicates that James C. and Mollie A. Roberts resided at 823 Park in 1915. Based on these three resources, it seems likely that the school was first located in the house that currently sits at 823 Park.

** The May 10, 1912, Tampa Tribune states: "The convent and home for the Sisters of Mercy ... is so near completion that the sisters ... have moved in, and the children are receiving instruction in the new building ..."

All Souls Catholic Parish Rectory - Sanford Holiday Tour of Homes 1996

Excperts historic rectory (former Chase home) from the 1996 Sanford Historic Trust 8th Annual Holiday Tour of Homes, Saturday and Sunday, December 7 and 9, 1996.

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